Photos by: Mike Nance & Kathy Leister
BY JEROME TAYLOR
HAVERFORD, PA--Improvement is almost always the goal in any endeavor, whether in academics, music, or sports.
And The Haverford School's soccer team has seen plenty of it this season. The ‘Fords went from finishing last in the Inter-Ac in 2021 to winning the championship this season, their first title since 2018.
They did on the back of a strong defense and a first-year coach returning to the Inter-Ac.
Keith Cappo was an all-inter-ac soccer player at Penn Charter and was on the Quakers’ championship team in 1998. He spent the last six seasons as the head coach for Ursinus College, but he was presented with a career-changing opportunity in March.
“I have a background in teaching math, and through mutual connections, the opportunity was put forth to me that [The Haverford School] needed a director of soccer and a math teacher,” Cappo said.
Haverford School head soccer coach Keith Cappo. (Photo/ Kathy Leister)
And after going through the hiring process, Cappo was set to helm the soccer team. He realized early during training sessions that the ‘Fords had a solid defensive foundation led by First-team All-Inter-Ac senior Papi Harris, first-team All-Inter-Ac junior Thomas Kaplan and senior Ryan DiRocco.
Haverford School senior Papi Harris. (Photo/ Mike Nance for PSD)
Haverford School junior Thomas Kaplan. (Photo/ Kathy Leister for PSD)
That foundation, plus keeper first-team All-Inter-Ac junior Connor Cresswell’s play, registered four clean sheets in 10 conference matchups this season.
“In terms of balls into the box, coming off of his line, playing with his feet, [Cresswell] is one of the best all-around goalkeepers in the area,” Cappo said about the junior keeper.
With a stout defense and versatile senior leaders like first-team All-Inter-Ac Joe Pariano and first-team All-Inter-Ac Andrew Kirwan, who could play anywhere on the field, the ‘Fords had all the makings of team that could turn things around.
But according to Cappo, the team didn’t realize their full potential until they beat the Pennington School early in the season. At the time, the Pennington School was ranked in the top 10 nationally, and the 3-1 win gave the ‘Fords the confidence they needed for the rest of the season.
Haverford School junior goalie Connor Cresswell. (Photo/Mike Nance for PSD)
“When we were able to win that game, and we were able to implement a gameplan and execute it, I think that it built a little bit of confidence… I think that we knew we could compete with anybody,” Cappo said. “As long as we did what we were supposed to do and held ourselves to a high standard, we knew we could compete with anybody in our confidence.”
And compete they did. The Fords opened conference play with two clean sheet wins over Malvern Prep and Penn Charter. They followed that up with a 4-2 win over Springside Chestnut Hill before suffering a loss to Germantown Academy; It would be their last loss until the PAISAA tournament.
The Fords finished with a conference record of 7-2-1 (their second conference loss came against Episcopal Academy after the PAISAA tournament). But the success in league play never went to their heads, which was another key in sustaining that success.
“I never saw a cockiness out of them, it was just learning my expectations, and when we were raising expectations, it was about meeting them,” Cappo said. “Our goal from day one was the Inter-Ac I made that pretty clear to them.”
“Our focus was doing as best we could in the league this year and then maybe add to that next year… anytime we had a setback, we were able to learn from it and not make the same mistake in league play.”
After their successful run in conference play, the ‘Fords won two games in the PAISAA tournament before bowing out to the Kiski School in the semifinals.
Nevertheless, the turnaround that the “Fords pulled off this year was memorable - a great send off for the seniors and a new standard for the players returning next season.
“Overall, we have to be pretty pleased. With how the season went last year, finishing tied for last in the league, to this year has just been a great turnaround for the guys,” Cappo said.